Ratnagiri protests clearance to Jaitapur power park

Expert panel gives conditional approval, but environmentalists tout it as a façade

By Sugandh Juneja
Published: Tuesday 14 December 2010

Close to 6,000 protesters on December 4 waved the black flag at French company Areva setting up a nuclear power park at Jaitapur block in Maharashtra. They formed a human chain and raised slogans such as “Sarkozy go back’ and “Areva go back”.

On November 26, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) gave its green signal to set up the nuclear park infuriating residents of Ratnagiri district.

“Police recorded 700 arrests, but 2,000 people were detained including three activists of Konkan Bachao Samiti (KBS),” said Adwait Pednekar, co-convenor of the samiti. The 9,900 mega watt (MW) plant, to be set up at Madban village in Ratnagiri, will destroy 938 hectare (ha) of eco-sensitive land with creeks and mangroves.

The ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) gave conditional approval of the project after visiting the site on October 28. The committee gave its approval, provided 23 specific and 12 general conditions were met with.

A crucial condition is regarding storage, disposal and management of radioactive waste. It directs radioactive waste coming out the plant to be treated and managed as per the guidelines laid down by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) or the International Commission on Radiological Protection. It also wants storage of radioactive material to be above ground elevation to avoid its seepage into the soil.

R Bhattacharya, secretary, AERB, said the board’s expert committee has not given its clearance yet. “All aspects will be reviewed in-depth through a three-tier review system,” he said.

The EAC wants a check on the level of radioactivity in food chain, air, water and soil. There is no condition, however, on any radioactive leakage from the plant. Pednekar of KBS criticised EAC’s conditions saying they were just a façade and evade basic risks. “Its clearance is essentially a failure on part of the government…. This is not a procedure involving democracy. It is a carefully timed political move”.

The conditions will be reviewed after the first two units of the 9,900 MW nuclear park are operational. The clearance will require a number of documents to be submitted to the MoEF within 12 months.

The conditions include a detailed biodiversity conservation plan for the mangroves in the area; plan to safeguard fisheries in the region; assessment of environmental management by a specially constituted committee and so on. There are also conditions related to noise levels, rainwater harvesting, green belt formation and so on.

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